Starting this fall, Iraq will start receiving F-16 fighters, giving the Iraqi military the capability to attack al-Qaida militants who have proven to be too well armed for Iraq’s fleet of helicopters.
The first two F-16s are slated to arrive in Iraq this September, according to the U.S. State Department.
By the fall 2017, Iraq will have received 36 F-16 fighters, the first of which recently made its maiden flight, said Mark Johnson, a spokesman for Lockheed Martin. Johnson declined to say how many smart bombs the fighters bound for Iraq can carry.
To date, 11 Iraqi pilots have trained to fly F-16s at Tucson, according to the Air Force. Capt. Mohammed Hama Ameen became the first Iraqi pilot to graduate Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training for the Iraqi Air Force F-16 program in March 2012.
Currently, the Iraqi military’s ability to attack al-Qaida militants from the air is extremely limited. The Iraqis have some Cessna C-208 propeller-driven aircraft, which can be equipped with Hellfire missiles, and they have thin-skinned attack helicopters.
But the Iraqi helicopters do not have the armor needed to attack militants with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, Brett McGurk, of the State Department, told Congress in February.
“Iraqi pilots, over the course of 2013, often flew thin-skinned helicopters towards ISIL camps defended by PKC machine guns and anti-aircraft platforms, said McGurk, deputy assistant secretary for Iraq and Iran. “The result was helicopters shot up and crews (many of whom we had trained) suffering grievous wounds. This situation was not sustainable, and the GOI [government of Iraq]requested our urgent assistance.”